Carlos Condit is nearly all the way home after a magnificent performance in the co-main event of UFC 120.

Condit delivered a severe examination of Dan Hardy’s chin – in the first round no less – of their welterweight tilt at the O2 Arena in London, and in the bargain, pushed his stock to a higher level.

“It was awesome to fight for fans here, even though they’re booing me,” Condit said. “Dan Hardy is a great competitor. Hats off to him – great respect. I feel comfortable on my feet, and if the thing had gone to ground, I would have done well there, too.”

That sounds like a man confident of his abilities and poised to move forward in a division dominated by perhaps the toughest MMA fighter on the planet, Georges St-Pierre.

Suffice it to say that it was not a comfortable environment for Condit. The crowd immediately dropped a socceresque chant for their countryman, Dan Hardy. After an exchange of purposeful leg kicks and a Hardy signature left hook. both fighters settled down to business.

As the opener wore on, both Condit and Hardy were accurate and dangerous standing. Hardy, as is his wont, was aggressivesuccessful landing his counters.

To a point.

That point was the point of his now questionable chin which took a vicious left from Condit.

“I got punched in the face. Sorry guys. Next time,” Hardy said, clearly disappointed. “That’s why it’s a sport. You can win or lose at any point.”

What he may have learned is that his vulnerabilities extend beyond the lack of a world-class ground game (which GSP exposed in their title fight) and now into the core of a fighter’s makeup – his ability to take a punch and stay upright.

It may well be nothing but a question of timing for the hard-charging Hardy. Of the two left hooks which were in the air at virtually the same moment on Saturday, his was a split second behind the clock, and it cost him. Condit landed his shot, Hardy didn’t.

There you have it.

Sports are often about a step, an inch, a close decision. Being late is never good enough, and Hardy will have to deal with that reality in the coming months.

Condit, a disciple of the Greg Jackson camp, is a man on a mission now. Even as referee Dan Miragliotta pulled “The Natural Born Killer” off Hardy, he had to be thinking ahead to the moment when he’ll get his shot to take on the most heralded fighter in welterweight history.

“I know he’s got a lot of power,” Condit said of Hardy. “I trained quite a bit for his left hook, and there you have it.”

If Condit wants to take the next step up the ladder to his ultimate goal, he’d do well to work on his wrestling.

A Canadian legend sits comfortably ensconced at the top of the pile, and Condit will have to meet that monstrous challenge if he wants the belt.